Rooting Around in My Learning Curve – The Masters I’m Following


Welcome! I’ve been thinking lately about how I learned what I learned. This got started when I was discussing the skills of project management with a coworker recently. We got through the hard skills but they weren’t enough to describe the job of being a project manager, especially if you have the task of performing a project turnaround.

Combining this with a lot of gratitude I’ve been feeling for teachers in my past, I realized I could probably think back through those teachers and discover what I learned from each one of them. So today I’m going to write about three teachers I had when I studied jujitsu while I was in college. These men had a big role to play in why I graduated college and went on to a successful management career.

Let me start by saying that the Salem Budokai was and likely still is an amazing place to study jujitsu, and I am forever grateful for all the volunteer instructors who taught and continue to teach there. There were six or seven instructors who taught during my time there. I’m picking three for this article because I have clear memories of what they taught me beyond the martials arts we learned, practiced, and taught. The instructors at the school had been learning and teaching martial arts for more than two decades when I went there in 1988 to train.

My Teacher Bob Parksion, and What I Learned from Him

Bob is still teaching at the Salem Budokai. He has been with the school, first as a student, and now as the head instructor, since 1971.

Bob taught me many things, but I remember Bob most for teaching me perseverance. I always admired how good of a mood Bob was always in. I had always thought of Bob as the best instructor for Judo matwork, but beyond judo skills when you were learning from Bob, you learned humility, competence, and perseverance. He never would give up on teaching me a technique, or let up on the intensity of the practice because I wasn’t feeling up to it. He’d see my struggle and offer encouragement. He could shift my mental attitude with a smile and nod.

Being knocked down on the ground is the last place you might think you’d want to find yourself, but if you’d studied with Bob, you’d realize that being knocked down just changes the game. Now  you get to show the other side of your training. It’s a whole new can of whoop-ass from down there.

So today in my career and life when I feel down and out, I remember all those hours learning from Bob. I remember that there is no place you can’t “come from”. Being down is just a matter of perspective, and all you need to do is change your mental image of what is good and bad. Being on the mat means you have the entire world under you. You have all the power you’ll need.

My Teacher Scott Clark and What I Learned from Him

Scott didn’t talk to me so much as work me when I practiced with him. When you studied under Scott, it was two solid hours of throws, takedowns, arm bars, joint locks, and choke holds. Scott preferred to work out with students who had been coming to the dojo for a few years. He liked to work with people who had earned at least a green belt. If you were working out with Scott, you knew you were going to be getting in some solid practice. If he said “good work”, you knew that not only had you performed the technique well, you had made Scott hurt a little. Scott taught me that competence and intensity aren’t something I have to be ashamed of even if makes other people uncomfortable. I just need to realize that we are at two different levels, and both are OK.

Scott didn’t show any guilt or shame for wanting to only work with advanced students. Scott taught intensely because he liked to know he could perform well under pressure. In my career, I’ve found myself in situations where people wanted me to compromise what I knew was right, to let others and myself off the hook… but I had been trained by Scott. I knew that if you want to be good at something you can’t take the easy way out. That will only get you mediocre results.

My Teacher Ben Coleman and What I Learned from Him

Ben had the most powerful back kick I’d ever seen. He threw me faster and harder than anyone I’d ever worked out with. His smile and brotherly love always greeted me with every practice. From Ben I learned that humility, humanity, and love can go hand in hand with being powerful.

I was assisting Ben one time in teaching a group of new students how to roll and perform a breakfall. That training involves some of the most boring parts of jujitsu when you are new to it, so we often helped students understand the importance of learning to breakfall by showing them how the breakfall is used in being thrown. This session took place about the end of my first year of practicing in the dojo, and Ben looked at me and said, “I’m going to throw you now.” As he turned back to the other students, I was kind of furrowing my brow. I thought it was weird of him to tell me he was going to throw me because, of course he was. We were standing at the ready his hands on my uniform. When we practiced, someone one was always performing the technique, and someone was always having it performed on them. This was determined before you started. In this case I was having the technique performed on me, as Ben was teaching. In the Dojo didn’t rely on verbal indications to get ready. I was ready the second he touched my uniform.

Then it came. He started to tell the students, “You’ll need to be able to take a fall at up to sixty miles per hour…” As he finished those last two words, he came in for the throw. A simple hip throw, but with such power that I couldn’t believe it. One instant I was standing, the next I’m on the ground. It was in the time between two thoughts.

As I lay there in the correct position to take the fall, I realized my mind hadn’t been involved at all. My body knew all the correct actions. I just let it do what it knew to do, and I was just fine.

As I got up I realized that something in me had changed in that first year. I had learned to be powerful and to work out with powerful people.

I had many, many more times of working out with Ben to let that knowing get deep into my body. I wish my mind had known what my body did when I graduated college and started my career . I wish my mind had known how much personal power I have. It would take me a long time to teach my mind as much about personal power as my body learned from working out with Ben.

Learning comes to me from many places and teachers. These three men stick out in my mind for more than what I learned from them as martial arts instructors. Thank you Bob, Scott, Ben and all the other instructors (Larry, Al, Tyke, and many, many more.)

I hope this post finds you happy and well. I wish you the best and most fun-filled day.

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4 thoughts on “Rooting Around in My Learning Curve – The Masters I’m Following

  1. I’m writing to let you know that I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I think your blog is very worthy of that recognition.

    I don’t know if you know about nominations/awards, etc. but it’s a way for bloggers to show their appreciation for other bloggers. It is also a way for other people to find out about your blog, and the blogs of people you may choose to nominate.

    You can get more information about your nomination and the Very Amazing Blogger Award process at http://livinglearningandlettinggo.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/thanks-for-the-very-inspiring-blogger-award/.

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